Wetlands: Nature’s Civil Servant

The importance of wetlands is something that gets discussed regularly. We already have a good idea of what we need to do to protect them, and also how important wetlands and surrounding riparian areas are for the maintenance of our local environment. While we know some things that we can do to protect these areas, it’s also important to have a deeper understanding of why.

Wetlands serve a variety of purposes. As stated above, they function kind of like a big filter. They help to purify water that moves through the wetland system, sort of like giant kidneys. They intercept surface runoff and remove or retain inorganic nutrients as well as process organic waste. They work to reduce the suspended solids in the water that increase turbidity and make the water cloudy. Wetlands also reduce algae blooms, dead zones, and fish kills. They also replenish our drinking water sources! Not only is this good for the environment, but it was also found that this vital function saves money that would otherwise have to be spent on expensive water treatment facilities.

Another vital function of wetlands is flood control. The dense vegetation impedes the movement of water and the low-lying position that wetlands usually occupy can help to retain a surge of water. We know this works in the wake of hurricanes, but it also works in areas where runoff from snow melt is a problem. These areas become especially valuable around urban areas, where the runoff potential is much higher with all the flat, impervious areas. Think of the money saved in reparation and artificial flood control when the wetlands are allowed to flourish.

Wetlands have an incredible amount of biodiversity, as well. The incredible potential for food production attracts tons of different species, from the smallest of insects to the largest of mammals. We derive a lot of goods directly from these ecosystems, such as fish and shellfish, blueberries, cranberries, timber, wild rice and some plants used for medicinal purposes, just to name a few. Some places have even used artificially created wetlands to cultivate the valuable goods that they can provide. The bonus includes a great place for viewing wildlife!

The positives provide us with what seems like irreplaceable benefits, and yet so many of our activities threaten wetlands and the services they provide us. Some main causes of our rapidly declining wetlands include:

  • Mining
  • Silviculture
  • Agriculture
  • Urbanization
  • Marinas/ boat docks
  • Industrialization
  • Interference with the natural hydrology, such as diversions, canals, or draining.

With this in mind, it is important to learn to minimize our impacts on these areas by choosing the impacted areas carefully, and properly protecting any wetlands that have the potential to be impacted. Speak to an Environmental and Stormwater professional at KCI about proper strategies and solutions for protecting wetlands.

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